Apple’s adaptation of their Audio Unit (AU) plugin format has ben a bit of a slow burner under iOS. There have perhaps been a combination of factors that have meant progress has been slower than most iOS music makers might have liked and, while there are undoubtedly still some aspects of the AU spec that require refinement, we are now seeing a significant rise in the number of AU capable apps.
The potential of the format is obvious. The plugin is hosted within your DAW/sequencer (or other AU host) and, when you save your project, the AU plugin settings are saved alongside it… and instantly recalled when you reload the project. This is a workflow benefit that has existed on the desktop for years and is now taken for granted…. and iOS is finally getting that same benefit.
The other obvious advantage is that AU allows you to run multiple instances of an app within a single project. For iOS musicians, who have had to deal with Apple’s general ‘one instance only’ policy for the OS, this is a big deal. Two (or more) instances of your favourite iOS synth app? No problem, providing it operates as an AU plugin. Dedicated EQ app on every track? The same….
Indeed, it is probably in the area of generic effects processing that the ‘multiple instances’ benefit is most obviously felt, especially for those using their iPad or iPhone as a tool for composition and recording. OK, so most of the better iOS DAWs include their own effects options such as EQ, compression, delay and reverb and, in many cases, these are very useable (for example, those provided in Auria Pro and Cubasis). However, with plenty of 3rd party effects apps out there, its great to have some choice if to want it…. and if your effects apps of choice also happen to offer AU plugin support, it’s even better to be able to use that choice multiple times.
All of which is by way of introduction to another effects app that arrived in an AU-only format; FuxEQ from developer Matthias Rath. In fact, the app launched at the end of January and has already moved to v.1.3 with a couple of updates. To my bad, however, I’ve only just got around to giving the app a bit of a workout…. so, as a bit of a catch-up, what does FuxEQ have to offer?
Join the (e)queue
FuxEQ is a seven band parametric EQ that operates in an AU-only format and will work on both iPad and iPhone. It requires iOS9.3 and a suitable AU-host app. It’s also a tiny download at just 2MB and priced at just UK£6.99/US$6.99.
The seven bands provide both high and low shelving bands, a special high/low balance band, a low cut band (as explained below, somewhat simpler than the low shelf) and three fully parametric ‘peaking’ bands. That ought to be enough for both simple routine tasks (rolling off high or low end for example) or more surgical operations where you want to notch out a problematic frequency of carve a bit of low-end space out your massive kick drum sound for the bass sound to sit in.
Of course, FuxEQ is joining a pretty well stocked iOS music app market place and, aside from those options already included within your DAW/sequencer, there are already some other AU EQ plugins as competition. Given the design and spec of FuxEQ, perhaps the most obvious comparison is with zMors EQ (a five band AU plugin that does an excellent job and is currently priced at UK£4.99/US$4.99) but in slightly different formats, 6144 by DDMF (UK£9.99/US$9.99) and AudioEffX by VirSyn (UK£9.99/US$9.99) also offer AU-ready EQ options. FuxEQ might, therefore, have to join a queue to get some attention.
Fux it up
When it comes to recording and mixing, EQ, alongside compression, is a must have. Indeed, it is such a fundamental part of the mixing process – where you need to get different sounds to blend together and not compete to fiercely with each other for the same part of the frequency spectrum – that it’s easy to see why dedicated recording musicians often like to have many different EQ options available to them. Not all EQs – hardware or software – are created equally. They may have different features, very different design approaches and, as a consequence, different applications and characteristics sounds.
So, while EQ is, in general, very much about the ability to turn up (or turn down) a specific set of frequencies within a sound (while leaving other frequencies in the same sound untouched), once you get beyond your first dabblings with personal multi-track recording, there is certainly a case you can make for having some choices when it comes to EQ tools. It might not be essential…. but it may well be useful.
And, with seven bands in total, FuxEQ certainly seems like to offers some considerable potential for both general and very detailed EQ adjustments. These are presented in a UI that, on the whole, is fairly conventional. You get a graphical display showing the EQ curves created by each of the seven bands (colour coded) plus an ‘overall resulting EQ curve’ that’s shown in grey.
While the App Store description of the app is helpful (and the same information is given on the app’s website), I suspect those new to graphical multi-band EQ might quite like to have a bit more information to guide them, whether that’s an introductory video or PDF guide. That said, once to get over the basic operational features, making adjustments is not too complex. As with most EQ plugins, the tricky bit is not adjusting the controls…. it’s judging what adjustments to actually make.
To select a specific EQ band for editing, you simply tap on the circular ‘node’ for that band within the graphical display. The node will light up, and the colour-coded EQ curve currently defined by that band is highlighted. At the same time, a series of horizontal slider controls also appear at the top/bottom of the display (and slightly obscuring the curve displays) that can be used to adjust the parameters associated with the selected band…. although you can set the frequency and gain by dragging the node itself around.
There are a couple of operational things to learn before you go too much further. First, individual bands are toggled on/off by double tapping on the node. When on, the coloured curve is shown as a solid line and contributes to the ‘master EQ curve’ shown in grey. However, when a band is off, you see the colour-coded curve as a dashed line and that band doesn’t contribute to the grey master curve.
Second, as mentioned above, once the band controls appear, they do tend to cover up a bit of the graphical display. If you want to see the full set of curves in all their glory, then simply tap somewhere in the background of the plugin display. This deselects the currently selected band, turns off the display of its various sliders, and gives you full view of the individual band curves and the master curve.
In addition, whether a band is activated or not, if you tap and hold, you can drag the node around the curve display without the band-specific controls appearing. This is useful if you have already got things like the Q setting configured correctly, but just want to see the full graphical display while you tweak the frequency or gain.
Tone in f(l)ux
Once you have those operational details under your belt, in use, FuxEQ proves itself to be a pretty flexible friend. I gave the app a bit of a run out within both Cubasis and AUM and, in both cases, had no technical issues and was able to run multiple instances of the app without any problems.
The low cut band provides a pretty convention filter for rolling off the low end in a sound (you might routinely apply this to lots of guitar and vocal tracks to get rid of any unnecessary low-end rumble that just clogs up space and gets in the way of your kick and bass). You can change the shape of the filter via the Q parameter and, at higher Q values it can be used to add a bit of EQ emphasis just above the roll off (sometimes useful on a bass guitar for example).
In contrast, the low shelf (and the high shelf at the other end of the frequency range) offer a somewhat more complex set of controls. Here you get the Boost and Asymmetry sliders also. I’m not absolutely sure I fully understand what the latter is doing but it certainly gives you additional ways to ‘shape’ the frequency adjustment around the selected frequency. Again, I could imagine this being useful at the low end for shaping your kick and bass tracks with different instances of FuxEQ so that they emphasis somewhat different frequency ranges and therefore compliment, rather than compete with, each other.
The three ‘peak’ bands are pretty much what you would expect and, in a tweak added in the v.1.3 update, now allow values of Q up to 8…. and this means that you can apply EQ over much narrower frequency ranges if required. Applying a significant EQ cut over a narrow frequency range can be great if you need to notch out a problem frequency on a sound.
The other band – the High/Low band – allows you to pivot an EQ curve around a selected frequency and it then applies an adjustable amount of opposing gain either side of that frequency with a fairly shallow and broad transition. I’m not sure this is something you would want to do via a single node very often but, as a means of apply just a subtle shift if the tonal balance of an audio signal (for example, to quickly rebalance a stereo mix or a drum bus) where you felt the low/high tonal character wasn’t quite right, then it would certainly be a useful option.
One other feature is worth commenting on. All the bands include a Gain slider. Not so surprising as gain controls are found on most EQ devices (hardware or software). However, in FuxEQ, what’s called the Gain control is not, actually, what we normally think of as an EQs gain control…. Instead, that’s referred to as the Boost control so, if you want to add 2dB of ‘gain’ at a particular EQ band, you tweak the Boost slider. In contrast, the Gain slider applies an overall gain change (up or down) across the entire frequency range for that band. Now, things can get a bit complicated here as these controls from each band will interact.
However, the idea is that you can use these controls so that, overall, any EQ adjustments you apply to a sound can have their overall gain adjusted and, when you A/B between the EQ’ed single and the original, with suitable use of the gain controls, the overall volume remains the same. If you adjust correctly, what you hear, therefore, is the tonal differences your EQ creates and your ears are not misled by any overall volume changes the EQing might also bring (EG is, after all, just frequency-specific volume changes). I’m still scratching my head a bit about this and the approach adopted here compared to a single (simple) output gain control for the plugin as a whole. Maybe having both would have been a good idea?
What is clear to me though is that, as a flexible EQ, FuxEQ does a pretty fine job. Yes, I might like the option for even higher Q values on the peaking bands, and I certainly think the app could ship with a few additional presets for some typical mixing tasks. That, plus a bit more detail in terms of documentation would, I’m sure, be welcomed by those new to EQ controls and where FuxEQ might be their first step beyond bass, mid and treble….
Those minor comments aside (and which could easily be address by the developer in future updates), for the more experienced user, FuxEQ is one of the more fully-featured 3rd party EQ plugins currently available. It doesn’t perhaps aim for the vintage vibe for DDMF’s 6144 (and some folks are attracted to that vibe even in a virtual EQ) but it certainly offers a similar experience – and perhaps a few additional features – when compared to something like zMors EQ. In turn, the latter perhaps has the advantage or a more conventional control set and a somewhat lower price point….
So, you pay your money and take your choice…. or not as the case may be… as both fall into the pocket money price bracket and, as I commented earlier, EQ and compression options, even if only for occasional use, are often good to have. I suspect I’d be more likely to turn to FuxEQ if I new I needed to get into some EQ details with a particular sound. It can do the more basic high/low cut type tasks with ease (but then so can Cubasis’ own EQs) but, for occasions when more surgical tonal shaping is required, then FuxEQ is well worth having to hand.